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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 20, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT

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from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with emmy nominated actress and teapot. this year -- with actress annie potts. her new show is "gcb." a conversation with annie potts, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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tavis: so pleased to have a annie potts on this program. she has enjoyed so much success over the years. 2009 she also fulfilled a lifelong dream of appearing on broadway thanks to a wonderful role in the acclaimed play "god of carnage." here now is a scene from "gcb." >> i think the ladies were hesitant to show their support in front of their husbands. >> so how about it, mama?
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>> taking it to the guys. >> back in my day, a chemist avoided things like this like the plague. -- a feminist avoided things like this. tavis: you and the southern belles. >> yes, i am one. [laughter] tavis: obviously you enjoy doing this, though. >> well, i do. i don't have to have a southern accent, but when i am employed to use it, it is like a sinking into my bedroom slippers. [laughter] i am comfortable in this. tavis: how much thought did you give to taking this role, because again, we have seen you
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play this type before. did you give much thought to whether or not you wanted to do this again. >> about three seconds. bob harling, who wrote "steel magnolias" wrote this. it is based on a book, and i saw that taiwan announced in one of the trade papers here and i thought -- i saw that title announced, and i thought there might be something in this for me. in fact, that was the case. i love it. i have had enormous privilege and pleasure to play these great southern women. i come by it, i spent some time studying that cugrowing up.
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tavis: for those who have not seen the show, tell us about your character. >> she is sort of the auntie mame of dallas. my daughter has run off, 18 years ago because i did not approve of her husband. meanwhile, my husband died. i am a widow. she had to come back, live with me, and i am thrilled to have her. there is a community of people, the hub of our show happens around a church, hillside memorial. we do not single ourselves out as any particular denomination. but you know, it is all about hypocrisy, really, in religion, and i think that people are taking a shine to it, in part, because in these economic times,
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people just love to see rich people make fools of themselves. tavis: or anytime. >> that is true, but especially now. people think if i just had more money, things would be okay, then you see these people and you think, maybe not so much. tavis: if you think that there might be some push back from the church, whatever that means? this thing, it seems to me, could only be done in texas, but texas is also the bible belt. to starting with the title alone, much less the stuff we see every sunday night. >> you know, scandal works for tv. a lot of people got up in arms. newt gingrich declined us, of
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course he had not seen it. that is anti christian. well, you did not even look at it. that is what we want from world leaders? we war that like a badge. newt gingrich said we are just terrible. tune in. tavis: like dan quayle and murphy brown. >> rush limbaugh came after us, too. the usual suspects in that kind of conservative fashion. and of course, or creators are christians. what they wanted to single out is the hypocrisy. i am getting a lot of letters and tweets from christian people who are happy to see the
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hypocrite's called out. tavis: i know you were raised in the south, obviously. were you raised in the church? >> i was. tavis: how does all this strike you, the adding of the hypocrites in the church? >> i think all true believers love to have hypocrisy and route it out. you know, what do they say? sunshine is the best disinfectant. put it out there. call it what it is. satire is always helpful for society. tavis: i want to come back to the broadway thing i mentioned earlier. i am always curious with persons who have been with us for a while, when, where, how? take me back to the moment when
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you knew that being a thespian leisure calling. >> for me, -- being a lesbian was your calling? >> i grew up in group -- being a thespian was your calling. >> i grew up right on the kentucky-tennessee border. tavis: i kept reading she was born in kentucky, she was born in tennessee. i am glad you cleared that up. there was not a hospital close enough to your town of kentucky. >> it was several miles away. i grew up there in this little postcard town with a courthouse in the middle, a baptist, methodist, presbyterian church right on the square and a catholic church down the square -- down the way a little bit.
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we grew up in the presbyterian church. my parents always said we were presbyterian, because the presbyterians believe in a little bit of everything. i gathered the and that it was ok to have a drink. [laughter] which i certainly enjoyed doing. but anyway, there was nothing to do there, so they sent us off to summer camp up in amounts of north carolina. they had a wonderful little drama program and the woman who ran that, sylvia, who i am still in touch with today -- i love you, sylvia. she called me and said it would you like to audition for the play? we are going to do heidi, and i thought you might be right for the role of heidi. so i auditioned, and i got the role. at the end of the summer, she pulled me aside and said i think
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you might have little light. nobody had ever told me that, and that was it for me. i went home and i was like well, that is what i will be. i did not have a lot of support for that kind of thing in the little town that i was then, so i just set myself a goal to read a play every day. i went through the good night library, that is what it was called. our little library right off the town square, and i read everything they had. by the time i got to college to get my degree in theater, i was certainly well read. tavis: if nothing else. >> they were like, i think you are going to have to change your accent. tavis: i am glad you raised that, because obviously in this
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business, sometimes you let it go, the accent. sometimes it comes in handy. how big a hindrance or an obstruction is that today for these young actors who are coming along who do, in fact, have accents? >> you have to neutralize it. if you want to be in the theater, you have to have, not that the only thing, although that comes in handy every once in awhile, something like that. you at least have to have good american stage speech. you have to be understood. if you have a southern accent or you do not articulate very much, everybody is like, i don't even know what they are saying. you are going to have to do that as part of training. tavis: to the point earlier, after all these years, from
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those humble beginnings, it apparently still have this love affair with the stage, as much as we have come to know you on the screen. >> well, first love, you know. there is nothing to rival it, really. as my children growing up, they really did not mind me going to work at 5:00 in the morning to much, but they liked me to talk them then. they never liked me being in theater much, because i could not do that. but then they got old enough for they did not really care if i tucked them in any more. so the first chance i got, mama has got to go back to the theater now. tavis: i was about to ask, how could you be in love with something so deeply and so drawn to something that a ticket that
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long -- that it took you so long to actually get to broadway? >> well, you know, it is because i loved my children more. i needed to mother them. but really, as soon as they were on their own, i went back to it. tavis: censure kids were so -- since your kids were so integral to the decision she made about stage versus screen, how important have your kids then to the decisions you have made to do, to not do, to accept or not accept certain roles? >> everything. you are of course bound to be there. i did not have my children for
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other people to raise, although i certainly leaned on a lot of other people to help me do that. but the consideration always was first but was going to be manageable for them. part of it was like, we are a circus family. we travel, you have to get with it. but kids like stability. that is one reason i did a series. my oldest son was getting to be school-age and we had been running all over the country, sometimes living in hotels and did not have a kitchen. he was starting regular school and he wanted to be on a soccer team. and it worked out for me. tavis: it did work out.
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last night, as i often do at night, i turned on the tv and there is always an episode of " golden girls" on. i liked it because the writing was so witty and it was so funny. i was thinking last night in preparation for conversation today about how significant " designing women" was then in terms of a woman on simulcast -- a woman ensemble cast. what do you think of that work in retrospect? >> i think it was a groundbreaking show. the rule of thumb is that women cannot be beautiful and funny.
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and i think there were four beautiful women on that show who were all really funny. not only that, for beautiful women and a black man. people had never quite seen that combination. [laughter] it was so awesome. it still shows all over the world. meschach taylor was in south africa, and just as apartheid was on the way out, he learned that that show had been quite beloved there because it was so promising to them, that they could see people working together like that. tavis: you have worked pretty regularly in your career, thankfully. but when you have been on a show that is that popular and it goes
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away, how do you navigate forward? >> well, you know, i always had plenty to do. i quit in 2002 because one of my children was having some trouble in school. he was diagnosed with a learning difference, and i could not work 15 hours a day and address the issues that he needed to be addressed. at that point, i had done 17 seasons strait of tv, so i was a little tired. i am such a workaholic, i will just go until i am hanging from my straps. what stopped me was the kids
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needed attention, and i did not have the time to give it to them. i was doing "any day now" for lifetime. i was down here at the theater in town. it is fabulous. it won the pulitzer prize. i looked at it, and our wonderful writer, nancy miller, it did 88 of those. she did one a week. i loved that show. i reluctantly had to go, and it shut the showdown, but i had to take care of my kids. he is in college now, doing very well. tavis: obviously don't have
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regrets about that. he made the right decision for your child and your family. how do you emotionally process walking away from something that you love, knowing that you are walking away is going to shut down the project? how did you come to that decision? >> it was hard. but all i had to do was to look at his beautiful face and know that i needed to do what i needed to do with that. i thought, i can pick up my career later, but i really cannot blow this. i cannot blow what this kid needs, because they cannot be picked back up. tavis: clearly made the right decision, but you cannot always pick your career back up. i know people who have taken a break and try to come back, and they cannot get arrested in this town. >> well, that is exactly what
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happened to me, now that you mention it. i had had such a breezy career, i just went from one thing to the other. i was never out of work or people wanting me for work for a minute. so i thought ok, i will get the kit on track and that i will come back, and something awesome, maybe not as fantastic as this. i am totally a workaholic. i am one of those people, i love my work so much, i write everyday at every job i have ever had, and is the best day of my life. i am happy to see you all. [laughter] i am like a racehorse, just give me a track. i just got to run. i thought that it will just be there for me. once i got the kid all situated, it was like ok, i can go back now.
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really? we kind of forgot who you were. what? and i did not quite know why it was happening. not everybody can pick that up. it is not easy for women in their fifties. it is the rate of attrition. and the roles that are there, you are either insane are your a drunk, or both. that could be fun for a minute, but i do think there is a little more brett to the character of women in that age group. but there just was not a a lot, and so -- a friend of mine called me. she said i saw a play last night, and she said you should do that play. i said what is it?
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she said "god of carnage" and you are perfect for it. >> the original cast was fantastic, jeff daniels, hope davis. i called my agent and said there might be something in it for me. i have not seen it. they said we will check it out. i don't know why, that -- must have been divine intervention, but the director said he would see me, and i got the role. so i fulfilled my lifetime dream of going to broadway at 57, my broadway debut. it was so awesome. it was so great. if somebody had told me when i set out that it would take me 45 years to get there, i don't know if i would have been able to
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soldier on, but the waiting kind of make it sweeter, i have to say. tavis: i time is just about up. -- my timing is just about up. my staff does not even know this, but this is my 20th year in the broadcast business in tv and radio. at some point, if you are fortunate, some tv show, some director calls you to do a cameo or to play some small part in a series. so years ago, the very first call i ever got to play -- not myself, i played an entomologist. guess what show it was on? "any day now." i have this photo at my house.
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you walk in my office, it is on wall. i am an expert witness in a case being tried on "any day now." i have been fortunate to do that sense, but that was the very first time. >> that show was awesome in so many ways. i was not there that day. tavis: after all these years of being on your set, my friend played the judge. thank you, after all these years. >> maybe we have something in the future. tavis: good to have you gone. the show is "gcb." good to have you on. that the our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith.
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>> he would always point at me and say that one there, she is a ring tailed tooter. i have not even seen him since i was a kid. >> it says according to the terms of the will, you are expected to spend this money on something frivolous. >> i don't know. $3,000 to spend on anything i want, that is going to require some thought. >> what would you buy? >> a blouse. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with -- actor frank lendale on his acclaimed memoir. that is next time, we will see you then.
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>> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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